The Head's Tales: Student Voice

Last week, four St. Margaret’s girls and I attended the ISABC Heads’ meeting at St. George’s School in Vancouver.  All of the ISABC Independent Schools (23 in total) were invited to send students to participate in a working session entitled: “Student Voice and Engagement in an Age of Distraction… Creating the Schools We Want.”  Dr. Steve Cardwell, the Director of Transformational Educational Leadership at UBC, facilitated the session.  The initial workshop took place without the Heads and Board Chairs present and, from my understanding, the students were articulate, passionate, and very clear about what’s working and not working in schools today.  The dialogue among the participants focussed on:

  • Sharing personal stories and school contexts
  • Outlining the purpose of school
  • Identifying the distractions (and attractions), challenges, and opportunities for learning
  • Discussing the importance of student engagement AND student voice
  • Defining the educated citizen
  • Exploring the impact of the revised BC curriculum and future learning

When the Heads and Board Chairs joined the group later in the day, they were confronted with chart paper plastered all around the room outlining the students’ ideas.  The Heads and Board Chairs took the opportunity to quietly absorb the students’ incredible thinking and to reflect more closely on the connection between teaching and learning within their own buildings.  This led to a robust conversation about experiential learning, innovative teaching practices, creating opportunities to “stretch” thinking, and, finally, the importance of linking learning outcomes from one subject area to another and to the world outside of the classroom.  It was quite apparent to all of us that we need to listen to our students if we want to truly develop higher order competencies, capacities, and adaptive expertise that will help them thrive in the real world.

Educators must be mindful about the need to create a collaborative learning environment with high expectations and a more personalized approach to learning, if we hope to help our students meet their full potential.  The students also talked about the integration of heart, head, and body that will allow them to approach the unknown with spirit, a sense of community, a sense of place, and a belief in themselves. They described learning environments that play to their strengths that will encourage them to become persons of character and to find the space to craft their own sense of who they are, what they want to know, and what makes them fulfilled. 
As stated by one of the participants, “give students the opportunity to amaze” and personal accountability and greater student engagement will also rise! 

St. Margaret families, you would have been incredibly proud of our girls – the way they presented themselves, their level of engagement, the strength of their voices, and the confidence they displayed when sharing their ideas with their colleagues from the other schools (including all of the Heads and Board Chairs in attendance) were amazing.  It was also an added bonus to see the RED BLAZER stand out among the “sea of blue, black and grey uniforms.”  These girls are definitely “inspiring women” in the making!

“Meaningful student involvement happens when the roles of students are actively re-aligned from being passive recipients of schools to becoming active partners through the educational process.”
         - Adam Fletcher

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